Johnson Public House

The front of Johnson Public House on East Johnson Street in Madison.Having recently celebrated its sixth birthday, Johnson Public House is something of a stalwart of Madison’s small, but growing, speciality coffee scene. Located just north-east of the Square, the spiritual and literal centre of Madison, it’s definitely worth the short stroll along the isthmus required to reach it.

Set on the ground floor of a three-storey, brick-built building dating from 1923, Johnson Public House (which, despite sounding like a pub to British ears, is definitely a coffee house) is a large, open space, with plenty of seating and a generous counter at the back. You can also sit outside by the (relatively) busy road at one of three large picnic tables.

Johnson Public House is a family-run business which started life a multi-roaster, with the likes of Intelligentsia as a mainstay. However, about a year ago, Johnson Public House set up a roasting arm, Kin-Kin, which now supplies the bulk of the coffee, although you will also find one or two guests in there as well. There are two options on espresso and four single-origins on pour-over, using V60, Chemex and cafetiere. If you are hungry, there’s a select breakfast and lunch menu, featuring sandwiches and the like, plus cake.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On the north side of Madison's East Johnson Street, you'll find, appropriately enough...
  • ... Johnson Public House. Not, as the name suggests to British ears, a pub...
  • ... but a coffee shop with a neat outside seating area on the broad pavement.
  • Here are two of the three picnic-style tables, as seen from the inside looking out.
  • A handy sign on the door gives the opening hours (and no, it wasn't closed!).
  • Stepping inside, the bulk of the seating is to the right of the door...
  • ... although there's also more to the left, where bar runs along the wall...
  • ... and continues along the window.
  • A view of the seating to the left of the door, looking from the other side.
  • And a view from the window bar looking the other way. Check out the table by the pillar.
  • There's more seating beyond this at the back on the right-hand side.
  • A panoramic view of the back of Johnson Public House, the counter on the left...
  • ... and the seating down the middle and on the right...
  • ... incluidng a communal table with a long wooden bench seat against the right-hand wall.
  • There's a smalerl wooden bench seat next to it with two smaller tables.
  • The large, long counter is on the other side, running to the back of the store...
  • ... although you can sit at the curved part at the front on one of four bar stools.
  • Talking of the back of the store, this is given over to retail space.
  • There's beer (to take home) on the right...
  • ... and coffee and coffee-related kit on the left.
  • The coffee is from Kin kin, the in-house roasting arm of Johnson Public House.
  • Talking of which, I like the poster!
  • Various large portraits hang in the front part of Johnson Public House.
  • They're by local artist Natalie Wright. You can buy prints and commission work from her.
  • While you're there, don't forget to look up...
  • ... and admire the lovely tin ceiling.
  • At the back there are a pair of frosted windows which provide plenty of light...
  • ... although there are also plenty of light-fittings as well all of which lend a hand.
  • So, to business. The counter is an unclutter affair, with the till to the left...
  • ... and the menu on the wall behind, along with the choice of coffee.
  • I started with something from the espresso machine, a very shiny La Marzocco Strada.
  • I had the Planadas Colombian as an espresso, served with a glass of sparkling water.
  • My coffee in close-up. Nice cup.
  • The view from above. It had a lovely creme.
  • I went back for a pour-over. There are V60, Chemex and Cafetiere options.
  • All the hot water comes from this boiler at the back...
  • ... while the coffee is pre-weighed in racks to the right.
  • First, rinse the filter paper and then grind the coffee.
  • I was going for an 8oz V60 of the Ethiopian Sidama, by the way.
  • This is Lennon, my barista, carrying out the first pour.
  • Now we leave to bloom. The coffee is really, really fresh and is bubbling away!
  • Next comes the main pour.
  • Johnson Public House employs a single, continuous pour method...
  • ... slowing topping up the V60 until the correct amount has been added.
  • Then we just wait until the coffee fitlers through.
  • The whole process is pretty quick.
  • Almost done now.
  • The target weight is 300g, with a 2 minute 30 second extraction. Pretty close!
  • Now just pour to serve.
  • And there we go.
  • This isn't mine by the way. For the 12oz and 16oz options, what's left in the carafe...
  • ... goes into a little glass jar.
  • My coffee in the mug...
  • ... which I paired with a slice of a rather awesome apple cake.
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Johnson Public House is a 15-minute walk north-east of the centre, on the north side of the busy East Johnson Street. There’s a fenced-off seating area, with three large, picnic-style tables, directly in front of the coffee shop. Generous windows run full width across the front, with a recessed glass door slightly offset to the left. Smaller windows flank the door, each sloping back at 45⁰, effectively funnelling you inside and creating space for two window-bays.

The right-hand one has a three-person window-bar, with two seats facing the street and the third on the sloping window by the door. On the left, the window-bar is smaller, with a seat at the sloping window and another facing the street. However, the bar extends down the left-hand wall, with space for another five seats.

The interior is large and open, a central ceiling beam running front-to-back, effectively splitting it in two. The ceiling itself is a glorious, tinned affair, except above the counter, where it’s lower and covered with polystyrene tiles. Talking of which, the counter is at the back on the left, running parallel to the wall. It’s curved at the front, where there are four bar stools, while the rest faces the right-hand wall. The till comes first, then the pour-over area, and finally a two-group La Marzocco Strada espresso machine with twin grinders. Beyond that is a kitchen/storage area.

The remaining seating is along the dividing line or in the right-hand half. Four three-person square tables occupy the space immediately to your right as you enter, two against the right-hand wall and two towards the centre. Directly ahead, there’s a three-person chrome table up against a central pillar with another, two-person table around to the right. Two more three-person tables lie beyond the pillar, running parallel to the counter. Against the right-hand wall, level with the counter, is a wooden bench-seat with two two-person tables, then, right at the back, opposite the counter, is a longer bench-seat with an eight-person communal table.

It could be dark back here, save for two large windows in the right-hand wall. These consist of multiple, square frosted panes, providing plenty of diffuse natural light, supplemented by multiple spotlights and more conventional light-fittings over the counter. The walls are painted a neutral grey which goes well with the tin ceiling. The front half, where there’s more natural light, doubles as an art gallery, both walls adorned with various works from local artist Natalie Wright, who uses the space to display her work. Although not for sale, you can by prints of her pieces.

Johnson Public House has a concise espresso menu, which, I was pleased to see, contains cortado and flat white as options. There’s a choice of two beans on espresso, while there are four pour-over options, with sizes varying from 8, 12 and 16oz via the V60, 24oz (Chemex) and 32oz (cafetiere). Normally a minimum of three of the beans are from Kin-Kin, the rest coming from a rapidly-changing cast of guest roasters. However, during my visit, all the coffee was from Kin-Kin, which is somewhat rare.

I started with the Plandas Colombian as an espresso, and followed that up with an 8oz V60 of the Sidama, a naturally processed Ethiopian, both recommendations of my barista, Lennon, who has been with Johnson Public House since it opened. My espresso was a well-pulled shot, with plenty of body, served with a glass of sparkling water, while the pour-over was a lovely, sweet, well-balance coffee. Finally, I had a slice of an awesome apple cake, a really rich cake, with lovely chunks of apple.

908 EAST JOHNSON STREET • MADISON • WI 53703 • USA +1 (608) 347-0483
Monday 07:00 – 20:00 Roaster KinKin + Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 20:00 Seating Tables, Window Bars, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 20:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 20:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:00 – 21:00 Payment Cash Preferred
Saturday 08:00 – 21:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 20:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 5th September 2017

You can also see what I made of Kin-Kin’s coffee stand at Festival Foods when I visited the following week.

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